On 27 April 2005, during the first general audience following his election, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI placed himself firmly at the service of peace among peoples and in his first “Message for the Celebration of World Day of Peace” (New Year’s Day, 1 January 2006), he expanded on this: “I wish to reiterate the steadfast resolve of the Holy See to continue serving the cause of peace.
“The very name Benedict, which I chose on the day of my election to the Chair of Peter, is a sign of my personal commitment to peace. In taking this name, I wanted to evoke both the Patron Saint of Europe, who inspired a civilization of peace on the whole continent, and Pope Benedict XV, who condemned the First World War as a ‘useless slaughter’ and worked for a universal acknowledgment of the lofty demands of peace.”
Having so recently celebrated Christmas, it is apposite to reflect that at the outset of his Pontificate, as a catastrophic war threatened to engulf Europe, in his first encyclical Pope Benedict XV wrote: “God grant by His mercy and blessing, that the glad tidings the Angels brought at the birth of the divine Redeemer of mankind may soon echo forth as we His Vicar enter upon His Work: ‘on earth peace to men of good will.’”1
Addressing the current threats to justice and peace, Benedict XVI first singled out the scourge of terrorism, which he equated with the coevals of nihilism and fundamentalism. Of these he said: “…the nihilist denies the very existence of truth, while the fundamentalist claims to be able to impose it by force.”
But it wasn’t only terrorists with whom the Holy Father was concerned, for governments and big business also undermine peace: “One can only note with dismay the evidence of a continuing growth in military expenditure and the flourishing arms trade, while the political and juridical process established by the international community for promoting disarmament is bogged down in general indifference.”
Civil society so threatened in all corners of the globe, the role of the Church was clear: “In view of the risks which humanity is facing in our time, all Catholics in every part of the world have a duty to proclaim and embody ever more fully the ‘Gospel of Peace’…”
All these words of the Holy Father resonate with those spoken by Pius XII shortly after his election as another World War loomed imminently on
Nothing is lost by peace; everything may be lost by war! These most eloquent words, spoken by Pius XII, were in fact coined by his sostituto, Mgr Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI. Do they not encapsulate the very essence of the message of Catholic Christianity as put forward by our present Pontiff so often in the short time since his election?
But His Holiness has also pointed out that others, too, apart from the Catholic Church and Faithful, have responsibilities for advancing this message; and some at least have not been found wanting.
In his Message, Pope Benedict noted: “I wish to express gratitude to the international organizations and to all those who are daily engaged in the application of international humanitarian law… By their commitment to safeguarding the good of peace, the various agencies of the international community will regain the authority needed to make their initiatives credible and effective.”
Moreover, His Holiness was not unmindful of what is nowadays referred to as ‘the peace dividend’. He explained that the New Millennium commitment to end poverty was inextricably linked to disarmament, saying: “The first to benefit from a decisive choice for disarmament will be the poor countries, which rightly demand, after having heard so many promises, the concrete implementation of their right to development.
“That right was solemnly reaffirmed in the recent General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, which this year celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of its foundation.
“The Catholic Church, while confirming her confidence in this international body, calls for the institutional and operative renewal which would enable it to respond to the changed needs of the present time, characterized by the vast phenomenon of globalisation. The United Nations Organization must become a more efficient instrument for promoting the values of justice, solidarity and peace in the world.”